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Reaching out to a continuously changing population through education and engagement, as well as cultivating mutual respect and understanding are key ways to preserve and share forest resources.

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Changing demographics and reaching new visitors to National Forests in California



Executive Summary and excerpts

The Forest Service has always been an agency with deep roots in social sciences. For more than 45 years, social scientists have studied participation rates and experiences of ethnically diverse groups at outdoor recreation areas. From these studies, they have developed research, theory, and practices for managing outdoor recreation areas as we know them today. Many issues and varied experiences have been explored and, to a large extent, goals have been set to overcome barriers and constraints to using these recreation areas for such diverse groups.

photo of young people digging

Asian kids find volunteering is rewarding and opens new

horizons (photo by volunteers for outdoor colorado)


Despite demographic shifts across the state, and the Nation, racial and ethnic group members and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds remain underrepresented among visitors to public lands. How nature and the outdoors are appreciated or experienced differs across cultures. We must therefore continue to understand what people care about and why, as well as how forests are viewed, valued, and being used by our changing communities.

This resource guide is the first of its kind in the Forest Service and consists of a multitude of ideas and materials for use and implementation by managers as well as staff who work in the field. It can also be used by academicians to encourage additional research in cultural diversity. The vision and ideas for the contents of this resource guide were derived from several professionals and scholars with knowledge and experience in serving culturally diverse visitors. Bridging the gap between research and practice, each section provides targeted research results and practical suggestions about how these results can be implemented by Forest Service managers.

Here are a few highlights of considerations and options offered:

• Language preferences and styles for culturally diverse visitors can be both a barrier and an opportunity. What messages are you sending and how?
• Provide translated materials in Spanish whenever possible (especially in forests with Latino visitor populations). Multilanguage literature may be needed depending on visitor groups.
• Use international symbols that are easily understood across cultures (restrooms, horse trail, picnic areas, hikers, etc.).

Facilities and Services
• Research indicates many ethnically diverse groups prefer to recreate in outdoor areas that include developed sites having picnic tables, grills, trash cans, flush toilets.
• Hire multilingual rangers and individuals with strong cultural competency skills. Provide ongoing training to all staff.
• “Audit” your existing facilities, programs, and services to evaluate what is going on, what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change and why.

• Conduct an inventory at your site–What works? Who’s missing?
• Maintain long-term, tried and true relationships with various partner organizations but also consider the untapped groups that can fill ethnic and cultural gaps.
• The more ethnically diverse organizations and agencies you partner with, the broader the support for conservation, education, outdoor/natural resource recruitment options for careers, stewardship and legislation, and public land management overall.
• Transportation continues to be a constraint for diverse visitor groups. Cultivate a champion to sponsor a van or minibus to assist with local community access to your forest. Research shows people will use this service if it is provided.

Civic Engagement/Outreach
• Expand education agenda by engaging academic institutions of higher learning, minority-serving colleges/universities (including community colleges) and other educational organizations for public relations, student interns, research, and evaluation expertise.
• “California Consortium”–Call on the three Forest Service funded outreach and recruitment programs in the Northern, Central, and Southern areas of California. Active and intentional, these programs target ethnic minority youth and/or adults in that region and include education, recreation, and internships/career development.
• Talk with the leadership in churches and other faith-based institutions about how best to connect with locals in your area.
• Engage with community centers in hard-to-reach communities.
• Consider developing youth/peer/young adult leadership model(s). Explore best practices and successful measures of existing programs that work with ethnically diverse youth across the state and country.
• Consult with trusted and reputable ethnic minority leaders in your area regarding how best to engage your communities of The Demographics of California: More People, Living Longer, Richer Diversity

The California of the future will be quite different from that of the past. The state will experience more growth at either end of the lifespan with more children and youth as well as more senior adults. California will be more culturally diverse, and there will also be more new Californians through continued immigration. When the California economy is strong, inter-state migration will increase adding another source of population growth. There will be an increase in Latino and Asian values and vision as these two cultural groups increase in size and influence. By 2020, Latinos will be the largest percentage of every age group except for senior adults (California Budget Project 2008). Although growth will occur statewide, it will be concentrated in southern California, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley.

More people are calling the golden state “home”

One in eight Americans call California home. Although California’s historically high rates of growth have mellowed into a more modest 1.1 to 1.2 percent annually in recent years, the state is still projected to add 1.3 million people during the 3-year period between 2008 and 2010 (California Legislative Analyst, n.d.). For context, this is like adding a city the size of Sacramento or Fresno, or Long Beach each year (California Legislative Analyst, n.d.). Between 2000 and 2020, the state’s population is projected to increase by 29.4 percent (California Budget Project 2008). California’s population is projected to pass 40 million in 2013 and 50 million before 2040 (California Department of Finance 2007). California has millions of culturally diverse residents to serve. To do so effectively, Forest Service managers, outdoor recreation planners, and agency leaders (in general) must understand culturally diverse recreation styles, especially for Latinos, Asians, and recent immigrants.

More Californians are living longer, healthier lives

The two fastest growing segments of the population, proportionally and numerically, are the 45 to 64 and 65-and-older age groups (California Legislative Analyst, n.d). In the 3 years between 2008 and 2010, for example, more than a million Californians will cross the mid-life threshold of 45 as the last of the baby-boomers swell this age group. The graying of California will accelerate rapidly starting about 2010 as millions of boomers begin entering the 65-years-and-older age group. The older segments of the population are more culturally uniform; by 2020, for example, 56.1 percent of all senior adults in California will be White (California
Budget Project 2008). California’s senior cohort is already the largest in the United States. Between 2000 and 2020, the senior adult population will increase by 75.4 percent statewide. Many foothill and rural counties, where the national forests are located, will see their senior populations double (California Department of Aging 2005). Two other aspects of all these long-lived Californians will bear watching: the number of “super seniors” (e.g., those over the age of 85) will increase dramatically by 2020, and the state will have a large cohort of culturally diverse elders.

How will this dramatic aging affect outdoor recreation

In the past, outdoor recreation participation has dropped significantly after age 65, but for California’s baby boomers, “the outdoors has been an important extension of the California lifestyle, and they are likely to carry this attitude forward into retirement” (California Department of Parks and Recreation 2005). More accessible infrastructure and opportunities will enable senior adults to continue to engage in outdoor recreation. This generation will fuel tourism and second-home growth throughout California for decades to come. Many boomers may shift from active outdoor recreation to greater involvement in conservation and heritage causes if opportunities to make a difference are available.

Young Californians may accelerate the rate of change

More than 26 percent of all Californians are under the age of 18, and 7.3 percent are under the age of 5 (U.S. Census Bureau 2006b). Nearly 35 percent of California’s family households have at least one child under the age of 18 (U.S. Census Bureau 2006a). Will these young Californians become California’s new nature stewards, or will they simply live in the shadow of some of the state’s most beautiful forested lands? Will these young Californians experience the joys of camping, hiking, and being with friends and family in forested settings, or will these experiences remain beyond their reach? Often less physically active than preceding generations, these youngsters need positive role models and access to active lifestyles.

More culturally diverse than any previous generation, nearly three-fourths of today’s youth are concentrated in 10 of California’s 58 counties, and about 56 percent live in 5 southern California counties (California Department of Finance). Other fast-growing counties are adjacent to many of California’s national forests. As the Central Valley increases in population, for example, several million people will be living within an hour or two of the Sierra Nevada national forests.

A culturally diverse California embraces the future

No demographic trend is of greater importance to national forest managers and leaders than the immense growth of cultural diversity. California is home to more than one-third of the entire U.S. Asian American population and about 30 percent of all U.S. Latinos and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders. Further, about a quarter of all the people who selected “two or more races” in the 2000 census hail from California (California Department of Finance 2002).

The American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau 2006a, 2006b) estimated the following percentages within California:

Percent - - Race

43.1 - - - - Non-Hispanic White
35.9 - - - - Hispanic/Latino
12.4 - - - - Asian
6.7 - - - - - Black/African American
2.4 - - - - - Persons reporting two or more races
1.2 - - - - - American Indian and Alaska Natives
0.4 - - - - - Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders

It is reported that Latinos will account for nearly two-thirds of California’s total population growth between 2007 and 2010 (California Legislative Analyst, n.d.). Yet, much of our federal outdoor recreation infrastructure (e.g., trails and trailheads, access points, campgrounds, visitor facilities) was built for White visitors and may need to be renovated and repositioned to serve the needs of culturally diverse visitors to California’s national forests.

The number of “Californians by choice” is growing

An important yet sometimes overlooked element of California’s cultural diversity involves country of birth. Nationally, 11.1 percent of the population is foreign-born; in California, the percentage climbs to 26.2 percent (U.S. Census 2006b). More than half are from Mexico, and about a third have arrived from Asian countries (California Department of Finance 2002). Many of these new Californians speak a language other than English at home. Preoccupied with finding their places in a new and foreign country, many immigrants use public open spaces for relaxation, for connecting with other immigrants, and to preserve cultural traditions
(Floyd 1999; Lanfer and Taylor, n.d).

Californians differ in their outdoor recreation styles and participation patterns

Californians differ in the types of outdoor recreation they participate in and in their recreation styles. Other sections of this resource guide provide details about patterns and preferences for outdoor recreation activities, outdoor recreation facilities, communication and information preferences, and other elements of the outdoor recreation experience. Responding proactively to differences in recreation style may increase visitation from culturally diverse Californians and provide increased satisfaction, comfort, and overall enjoyment.

California’s large Latino population has been the focus of most of the recreation style research in California. More than a decade of research by Chavez and colleagues indicates that Latino outdoor recreationists at federal sites:

• Prefer to recreate in larger groups and prefer forested sites with water features and amenities to support a day-long, extended-family social outing with extensive onsite meal preparation.
• Are interested in an outdoor experience with a strong social recreation component, such as facilities and programs that involve families, programs for children and youth, and family-oriented entertainment events and festivals.
• Identify stress relief and having a good family experience as the most important features of a satisfying outdoor recreation excursion.
• Enjoy picnicking, day hiking, camping, and large family gatherings in outdoor settings.
• Respond to interpersonal communication from multilingual and culturally diverse staff (California Department of Parks and Recreation 2005, p. 8).

Two recent studies (Roberts 2007, Winter et al. 2004) provide insight into the recreation patterns and preferences of Asian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Four Asian American ethnic groups (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino) and their uses of the Golden Gate National Recreation (GGNRA) area were the focus of the Winter et al. (2004) study. Findings revealed:

• Going to a park or beach (presented as two different choices), walking/hiking on a trail, picnicking, and driving for pleasure, were the top five outdoor recreation activities overall.
• Motivations for visiting natural areas included beautiful scenery, the smells and sounds of nature, feeling close to the land, better appreciating nature, and doing something with family.
• Constraints for Asian Americans included not knowing who to ask for information, being too busy with work or family, lack of public transportation, equipment cost, language barriers (i.e., some Latino and some Asian communities), and lack of knowledge about where to go at GGNRA.
• Interethnic group comparisons revealed noticeable variations between the four ethnic subcategories.

Recent focus group research by Roberts (2007) explored the outdoor recreation experiences and perspectives of nearly 100 culturally diverse Bay area residents. A total of nine focus groups were conducted, two of which included a total of 24 Asian/Pacific Islander participants from San Mateo County or the city of San Francisco. Key findings included:

• Appreciation of the health benefits (mental and physical) of nature.

• Enjoyment of outdoor recreation activities including walking/hiking, jogging/running, playing with children in parks, reading in parks, family picnics, and exploring green spaces.

• Indication that little was known about GGNRA and the locations of GGNRA sites.

• Lack of time, lack of companions, and lack of information were frequently reported barriers to park access, and concerns about park cleanliness (or lack of the same) were also noted as barriers.

• Agreement that park employees did not represent the racial/ethnic makeup of their communities, but this factor was not identified as a major barrier to visitation.

• Ethnic print media, posting information in community gathering places, and targeting children and schools were mentioned as good ways to communicate with the Asian communities.

Several studies have identified the outdoor recreation patterns and preferences of immigrants. For example, Floyd (1999), Lanfer and Taylor (n.d.), and Winter et al. (2004) identified several key findings from the larger body of research as follows:

• Recent immigrants tend to recreate with family groups. Second and later generations often pursue recreation with friends.
• Immigrants often look to their recreation and leisure time to help maintain cultural traditions and to connect with other immigrants for mutual support and information sharing.
• The Latino emphasis on family and family values is maintained across generations and does not seem to diminish with increased time in the United States.

Changes and New Directions on the Horizon

Outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism in California will continue to be important parts of the California lifestyle. And, the historical outdoor recreation activities will expand to include new activities. The relatively uniform profile of current national forest visitors will expand as more culturally diverse visitors come seeking a variety of benefits of nature and natural systems. New gateways to involvement and new information gatekeepers can be tapped to connect Californians to their national forests.

By understanding the forces and trends driving change, we can become more inclusive and intentional in our efforts to add value to people’s lives and to engage them as co-workers in conservation stewardship of the natural and cultural resources managed by the Forest Service in California. Through partnerships and alliances with the organizations, associations, and individuals that make up the leading edge of change, we can discover new ways to align our respective missions to better serve the people of California by protecting the land that sustains all of us.

Sample Constraints

Even though the literature in the field is based on research conducted for more than 45 years, the following sample constraints have been identified and highlighted in the literature over the last 5 to 10 years as being the most common among a broad range of ethnically diverse populations. This list relates to those in the ethnically diverse populations who visit less frequently or generally do not enjoy outdoor activities in relation to other recreational opportunities (no particular order):

• “Marginalized” nature of racial/ethnic minorities (e.g., cost/financial constraints, lack of transportation, access issues).

• Historical context (perspectives of current outdoor/natural resource areas based on historical perspectives, such as family member experiences in nature).

• Safety issues (e.g., physical and/or emotional).

• Lack of people of color (culturally diverse) among marketing/promotional materials.

• Lack of ethnic diversity of agency workforce (e.g., people of color underrepresented as part of the ranks of public lands employees).

• Socialization and exposure (e.g., upbringing and/or current social practices such as receiving criticism from peers, such as “it’s a white thing”).

• Feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome in certain forests, parks, or other outdoor areas.

• Perceived discrimination/interracial interactions (e.g., possibility of cultural conflicts or discrimination).

• Lack of knowledge and/or awareness (e.g., what to do, where to go).

• Language barriers (e.g., signage, brochures/materials, communication with rangers and/or other natural resource management personnel).

• Time commitments or other priorities.

• Desire for more “luxury accommodations.”

• Few friends travel or recreate in natural areas.

• Perceptions of being “too crowded” (e.g., prefer fewer people in the outdoors) or “not crowded enough” (e.g., relating to perceived safety among people).

Common barriers to national forest visitation by specific groups

Research shows “time” is the number one constraint across all cultures. Other examples:

• Latinos—Transportation, lack of interest, lack of information, health or physical limitation, lack of money, safety, language barriers.

• African Americans—Lack of interest, health or physical limitation, lack of money, transportation, fear/safety, age, lack of information, discomfort/feelings of being unwelcome.

• Asians—Lack of interest, distance to travel, lack of information, health or physical limitation, no one to go with.

• Whites—Health or physical limitation, lack of interest, age.

Communicating With Diverse Groups

Diversity in California is experienced in many ways. One way is through communication. How different groups communicate differs significantly. Some people prefer to receive communications in particular 20 kinds of newspapers or magazines, whereas some prefer radio broadcasts, and still others prefer to go onto the Internet. Latinos, on average, do not frequent visitor centers, as their preference is face-to-face communications. What, then, is the best way to communicate with diverse visitors to forests in Region 5? Have you always used signs along the road, brochures, and maps and considered the job done? Have you wondered why some visitors don’t seem to understand the message you so clearly sent? Do you wonder why some groups are absent from your recreation area? Communications may be a key to serving different populations.

Language Preferences for Latinos

Research on communication preferences was conducted at two sites in southern California—the Applewhite Picnic Area (AWPA) on the San Bernardino National Forest (SBF) and the San Gabriel Canyon (SGC) on the Angeles National Forest (ANF). Both sites are visited by Latinos in large numbers. Study results for Latino visitors to AWPA and SGC indicated that large percentages are Spanish speakers (75 percent AWPA; 54 percent SGC; Chavez et al. 2002). Similarly, a large percentage of Latino visitors read Spanish only (71 percent at AWPA; 45 percent at SGC; Chavez and Olson 2004).

International Symbols

Research on international symbols (signs without words) in use on the SBF and the ANF were conducted. The majority of respondents were Latino, but results include others as well. Results indicated the following were signs well understood by all visitors: Fishing, Swimming, Restrooms, Horse trail, No fireworks, Hiking trail, Picnic area, No trucks, Camping (tent), Drown campfires, and Hikers. Serving Culturally Diverse Visitors to Forests in California: A Resource Guide Fewer visitors understood the symbols used for Off-road vehicle trail, Information, and Automobiles Permitted. The symbols for the following terms were not understood by most visitors: No alcohol, No charcoal grills, Amphitheater, Carry water back to the site, Fish hatchery, and Conserve water (Chavez et al. 2004). Information Once Visitors Are Onsite

Research indicates that visitors (Latino and others) prefer to receive information
once onsite through a brochure at the site entrance (65 percent at AWPA; 81
percent at SGC), signs along the road (61 percent at AWPA; 66 percent at SGC),
and notes on bulletin boards (51 percent at AWPA; 46 percent at SGC). These
findings were consistent at other national forests in southern California (Los Padres
and Cleveland). At AWPA, preferences were for information on streamside areas,
things to see and do, rules and regulations, and rare types of plants and animals. At
SGC, preferences were for information about the best times to visit the area to
avoid crowds, safety, areas for picnicking/barbecuing, and camping. Information
sources prior to arriving at the site tend to be word-of-mouth (Chavez et al. 2002,
Chavez and Olson 2004).


Getting the USFS Message Out

An information needs analysis was conducted in the Los Angeles basin for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Whites. The study examined the use of various forms of media, including sources most used and most trusted for information regarding natural resource use opportunities (Crano et al. 2008). Most respondents spent more hours watching television than they did in the use of other media (such as listening to the radio). African Americans spent more hours per week watching television than did other groups (Asians watched the least number of hours). Latinos spent more time listening to the radio than did other groups; they were most likely to listen to ethnic radio stations, rhythm and blues programming, or rock. There was no significant difference in amount of time spent reading magazines or newspapers; however, Latino and African American respondents tended to read magazines designed for an ethnically based audience. The most trusted sources regarding information for outdoor recreational opportunities were friends and family and computers and the Internet. Whites were twice as likely to trust newspapers as were Asians, and Latinos were twice as likely to trust television as any other group.

Multicultural Education

Headlands Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational adventures in nature’s classroom to inspire a personal connection to the natural world and responsible actions to sustain it. Headlands Institute conducts interviews with K-12 field science and community programs that are based on Bay Area racial/ethnic demographics. Questions include:

• How have you experienced the ocean?

• How did your parents or grandparents experience the ocean?

• Do you know of any stories from your culture about the ocean?

• What do you want future generations to understand about the ocean? The program identifies the following goals:

Managing for Ethnic Diversity: Corps Facility and Service Modifications

The Ethnic Culture work unit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was created in 2000. Its objective was “to develop baseline information on ethnic minority use and recreation needs associated with Corps projects that could be used by Corps decisionmakers for project planning and operations” (Dunn 2002: 1). Later changed to Ethnic Culture and Corps Recreation Participation research, they now identify particular demographic trends and their projected socioeconomic impacts on the Corps’ national recreational program. Their research also identifies recreational needs and facilities preferences for both traditional (White) as well as nontraditional (ethnic minority) Corps visitors, in particular African Americans,
Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. They have been conducting a wide variety of research and producing excellent reports about specific ethnic groups across the country using “demonstration sites.”

They’ve also compiled some of their information to provide an overview of common issues affecting management of sites and success stories regarding programs and outreach efforts relating to ethnic minority visitor use. This is a major two-part report replete with great practical applications for facility design and development, provision of services, as well as a wealth of research results from various studies. Many charts and graphs are provided as visuals. Results of initial research on what other federal, state, and city agencies are doing to successfully manage for a growing ethnically diverse recreational-visitor base are provided. Another purpose of this report is to present the results of a Corps-sponsored workshop, “Ethnic Minority Recreation,” held in Estes Park, Colorado, in October 2001. This workshop came as a result of efforts to document management success stories both within and outside of the Corps. Summaries of workshops are provided along with copies of the PowerPoint presentations for easy access.

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